For whatever reason, I’ve never been particularly couth. Sometimes my language will pass muster within traditional white evangelical culture, other times it will not. For the last couple years I’ve been swearing again. I never felt to invoke the name of deity in coarseness or frustration, nor do I pronounce the most vulgar of vulgar American words, but I have found applications for the pair of monosyllables that begin with a sibilant or a fricative and explode at the end with a puff of air. It started in my interactions with frightened patients who seemed disoriented by the rush of medicalese and doctorate-wielding practitioners in white laboratory coats. Several patients were visibly relieved when I cursed to express my sympathy with their difficult plight or to ease the tension surrounding a difficult decision they had to make. I felt inspired to be a Roman to Romans and a Greek to Greeks. I still feel that I was inspired.
I discovered, though, with time, that I found my rhetorical groove again with cursing. Nothing close to the huge lexicon of Russian Mat (a cursing corpus which has generated dictionary upon thick dictionary and is a point of great pride among my Russian friends), but enough to make my language expressive and occasionally explosive. No muscled stevedore me, but someone who would not be pegged as a “goody two-shoes.”
I noticed that I was able to project a great deal about my group solidarity in this way, demonstrating that I was no neoconservative deluded into believing that acts of personal piety absolve a multitude of social sins, that I was an approachable Mormon for outsiders (in a setting where insider:outsider relations are occasionally strained). Frankly, that seemed to me another useful side effect of my cursing behavior.
Then I felt like I wanted some personal spiritual clarity as I tried to work through the meaning and logistics of fatherhood and the moral valence of my career path. And the wonderful rhetorical explosions kept disrupting my sought-after clarity. Something about those speech acts seemed to be more centered on me than on the numinous. So I (mostly) quit. My wife is delighted; she finds me coarse enough without a gutter mouth. I still spell the occasional word when it seems appropriate and will still occasionally transgress class boundaries to extend the hand of fellowship to a bewildered patient, but by and large I circumlocute my familiar expletives. I can think of a small handful of excellent reasons why I should have stopped cursing–to foil the nonconformity-radar of my neighbors, to avoid coarsening the lives of my children (I didn’t swear around them, but sometimes I imagined them present when I cursed), to avoid bothering my wife, as a minor act of self-discipline. I can also think of plenty of reasons to continue cursing, not least to protest the dominance of piety culture in our religious discourse. Mostly, though, I wanted things a bit quieter in my head when I sought out God. So far it seems to be working.